Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Cantabrigiensis: Proceedings of the Eleventh International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies, Cambridge, 30 July-5 August 2000

By Rhoda Schnur | Go to book overview

Confession and Concession:
The Texts of Erasmus's Exomologesis

MICHAEL J. HEATH

Take a good look at the sort of people who will confound heaven and earth if
anyone warns against the over-eager practice of confession; you will see men
who are ravenous, covetous and devoted to their bellies. They make all this
fuss because confession fuels their extravagance, their greed and their lust. Is it
enough for the healing of souls to sport a cowl or a shaven head? Should this
holy work be done by a bleary-eyed drunkard who's just stumbled out of an
orgy? (156D)1

Surprisingly, this is not a passage from Erasmus's Praise of Folly or Colloquies; astonishingly, it is Erasmus trying to be magnanimous and conciliatory towards his critics. It is one of many passages added when in 1530 Erasmus revised his controversial book on confession, Exomologesis sive Modus Confitendi, first published in 1524.

At our Copenhagen congress, Erika Rummel presented evidence that Erasmus cared little about revising his own texts, usually complaining that he had no time to do so. She argued that Erasmus's natural eloquence and rhetorical skills amply compensated for this self-confessed reluctance to revise.2Exomologesis is a little-known exception. Its textual history is thus immediately interesting as a book that Erasmus conscientiously revised, largely in response to (or goaded by) contemporary critics. But it is also interesting as an example of Erasmus's accumulative method, in that he

1 References to Exomologesis are to the Latin text in Desiderii Erasmi Opera omnia, ed. J. Le
Clerc (Leiden, 1703–1706 "LB"), 5:145–170. The English versions are adapted from my translation
in vol. 68 of the Collected Works of Erasmus (CWE) (Toronto, forthcoming).

2 Erika Rummel, "With no Thought of Publication? Erasmus's Manifesta Mendacia as an Exam-
ple of Spontaneous Writing," in Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Hafniensis, MRTS 120 (Binghamton,
NY, 1994), 179–186.

-263-

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